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Medal of Freedom: From Sidney Poitier to Harvey Milk

Actor Sidney Poitier and entertainer Chita Rivera were among the 16 recipients who will receive this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, to be presented at a ceremony at the White House on Aug. 12.

Other recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Edward Kennedy, Stephen Hawking, Billie Jean King, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Muhammad Yunus, Janet Davison Rowley, Mary Robinson, Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird, Pedro Jose Greer Jr., Nancy Goodman Brinker and Sandra Day O’Connor. Harvey Milk and Jack Kemp will receive posthumous tributes.

The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s “highest civilian honor” and is given “to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Here’s the White House statement on Poitier:

“Sidney Poitier is a groundbreaking actor, becoming the top black movie star in the 1950s and 1960s.  Poitier is the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United States.  Poitier insisted that the film crew on The Lost Man be at least 50 percent African American, and starred in the first mainstream movies portraying “acceptable” interracial marriages and interracial kissing.  Poitier began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre.”

Here’s what the White House said about Rivera:

“Chita Rivera is an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer, who has won Two Tony Awards and received seven more nominations while breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps.  In 2002, she became the first Hispanic recipient of the coveted Kennedy Center Honor.  Propelled to stardom by her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story, Rivera went on to star in additional landmark musicals such as Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, and Jerry’s Girls.  She recently starred in The Dancer’s Life, an autobiographical musical  about her celebrated life in the theatre.”

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